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Update old definitions about nuclear waste to speed safe cleanup via The Seattle Times

How can we expect to effectively address this problem if we aren’t even willing to accurately define it?

The U.S. Department of Energy recently released new estimates for the cost of cleaning up the Hanford nuclear site in central Washington state. That number could now reach a staggering $677 billion, with active cleanup ending in the year 2079. Under this scenario the federal government would spend, on average, more than $11 billion dollars every year for 60 years.

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DOE is now considering moving away from this well-intentioned, but overly costly and inaccurate approach. Instead of arbitrarily making decisions based solely on the origin of the waste, agency officials are proposing to manage this waste based on its actual physical characteristics. This is the same method that countries like France and Germany use to guide their waste-management decisions, and would bring the U.S. closer to international standards established by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

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Treating waste based on its actual contents would allow DOE to direct the resources they save toward other important cleanup efforts that would otherwise languish, potentially for years to come. It could also open up pathways to get some waste out of Washington state more quickly. These waste streams would otherwise remain at Hanford for many more years, or even permanently.

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Ultimately, there is high-level defense nuclear waste at Hanford and elsewhere that does need to be treated and disposed of in a deep geological repository. It is some of the most challenging and expensive material that our country has to address. We should not, however, delay cleanup progress and waste taxpayer funds by unnecessarily managing lower-level waste, which scientists agree can be safely disposed at permitted sites, in the same manner. After all, how can we expect to effectively address this problem if we aren’t even willing to accurately define it?

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